The New Jersey Devils will open their 2010-2011 campaign Friday night at the Prudential Center with a line-up of twenty players, the minimum allowed under the NHL CBA.
The final cuts brought about the assignment of defenseman Matt Taormina to the Albany Devils (AHL), the recall of center Adam Henrique from the same team, the placement of Bryce Salvador on the Injured Reserve List and the designation of Anssi Salmela as an injured non-roster player. Salvador suffered a concussion in the pre-season and Salmela is recovering from surgery on his knee.
The only surprise in the lineup is that all the veterans are still there. The Devils are salary-cap impaired, squeezing tightly under the limit with a temporary fix, after being expected to trade or waive one or two high-salaried vets to accommodate the rule. Instead they have opted to work with a skeleton crew to start the season.
Then there are three newcomers who bring more size and toughness to the defensive corps:
Anton Volchenkov, a known hitter, was signed on the first day of the free agent sweepstakes. A long-time stalwart on the Ottawa Senators, playing at 6’1” and 226 pounds, the Russian is expected to give Marty Brodeur and Johan Hedberg the protection Devils goalies have been missing since the retirement of Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko.
Henrik Tallinder, the 6’3” Swede who came over from Buffalo in the off-season, adds size, speed and a smooth passing game to the already powerful team offense. His puck-moving ability will make him one of the more north/south rearguards on the team.
Alexander Urbom, the Devils third round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, who spent last year with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL, earned his spot on the roster in the pre-season with some very steady play and a mature attitude that belies his nineteen-year-old appearance.
At forward, the Devils’ cup runneth over:
The top line: Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Ilya Kovalchuk has been together since the beginning of training camp. The intricate passing and spontaneous creativity shown by this combination has stirred attending fans to talk about the Stanley Cup teams of the recent past. Predictions of the first Devil to score 50 goals and reach 100 points abound. “That would be nice,” smiled new head coach John MacLean.
The reunion of Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias, two-thirds of the vaunted “A” line (with winger Peter Sykora), has been very successful. Their tic-tac-toe passing has generated several goals in the pre-season and bears promise for a regeneration of both their careers.
The entire forward lineup is filled with seasoned veterans: Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, Rod Pelley and enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (don’t you just love that name?).
The only new addition to the forward lines is Adam Henrique., a twenty-year-old center who is coming off two Memorial Cup winning seasons with the Windsor Spitfires.
The coaching staff is, in my opinion, the best it has been since Pat Burns retired. John MacLean, a tough, aggressive player in his time, has been groomed and seems more than ready to take over the head-coaching job. There is no better instructor for the defensemen than the Big Bird, Larry Robinson, who has returned to his post behind the bench. Adam Oates, a prolific scorer in his playing days, will coach the power play and the forwards, with Chris Terreri handling the goalies.
So the Devils players start their season with the hammer still hanging over their heads. Someone will have to go. No one can predict any more who it will be or when. The competition to remain on the roster will be fierce. The writing on the wall has never been clearer.
Let the Games begin!